GAA Football

Mark Poland to return to Down fold in the new year

Mark Poland in action against Longford's Barry Gilleran and Darren Gallagher in the All-Ireland football Qualifier at Newry
Andy Watters

MARK POLAND has ended speculation over his inter-county future by confirming he’ll return to training with Down in January.

The Longstone forward, a former Mourne county captain, will be available for Down’s Dr McKenna Cup and Division Two campaigns and, a decade after making his debut, he says he still regards wearing the famous red-and-black jersey as "an honour".

Poland spoke with Mourne manager Eamonn Burns before agreeing to take a short break from football to “recharge the batteries” and he intends to enjoy Christmas with his family and return to the panel early in the new year.

“I’m planning to go back after Christmas,” confirmed the 2010 All-Ireland finalist.

“I just needed a break away from football to be honest. I just wanted a break - a mental break more than anything - from all the training before Christmas so I could actually enjoy Christmas.

“I’ve been going for the guts of 10 years now and I’ve never, ever asked for any sort of break other than when I was getting married. We had a wee boy there a couple of months ago as well - I’ve been on the go for a while now and I have to think of others too.

“I spoke to Eamonn and he was willing to leave it until after Christmas so the plan is to go back in January. I’m doing my own training and I just felt I needed to recharge the batteries.

“I’m not a young cub any more so hopefully the break will do me the world of good. I’ll go back and it’ll be up to Eamonn whether I feature in the McKenna Cup or the league - I’ll be going back to train and I’ll be hoping to play any part I can.”

Poland made his Down debut in a Qualifier against Sligo at Markievicz Park in 2006, when he replaced Ronan Sexton early in the second-half. A decade later, he has lost none of his passion for his county.

“Every county player has to appreciate that they’re getting an honour being handed a county jersey,” he said.

“It’s different from when I started because that’s all I really wanted to do. Nowadays there’s more out there for young fellas - they go travelling and do this and that. “Maybe they think that the amount of effort and time (required for county football) isn’t worth it, but I wouldn’t be of that stance.

“Everything is easier when you’re winning. When you’re competing and playing in August it’s easier to motivate yourself and do the hard yards. But every year is a new year and you hope for some sort of breakthrough now and again.”

The Mourne men were relegated from Division One last season after losing every game and their fortunes didn’t improve in the Championship. In Ulster, Eamonn Burns’ young side lost to Monaghan while Longford ended their season in a Qualifier clash at Páirc Esler.

Division Two begins with a game against Fermanagh and there is a mouth-watering Ulster Championship clash against neighbours Armagh in Newry to look forward to.

“Last year was a write-off,” Poland admitted.

“Being truthful, teams in Division One were at a higher level than we were. But I wouldn’t say confidence is low, the boys have been about long enough to know that if Down win a couple of games we can consolidate our position in Division Two. I’d say Eamonn will be targeting that first game against Fermanagh and trying to get off to a good start and get a win on the board.”

He added: “Division Two is a better mark of where Down are at. There are tough games, but I’d still be optimistic, there’s nobody in that League that you’d be fearful of - on their day, Down can go out and perform against any of them.

“When you pull on a Down jersey, you shouldn’t be afraid of any team.”

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